Participants at a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting in Bangkok yesterday shared the view that hunger could be alleviated by encouraging farmers to combine their bargaining power through strengthened agricultural cooperatives.
Experts are convinced participation in stronger cooperatives will give farmers improved negotiating power, resulting in higher incomes as well as productivity development.
At the main local event celebrating the 32nd World Food Day, keynote speakers said greater efforts through agricultural cooperatives to promote stronger small farmers would be a critical factor in solving the problems of poverty and malnutrition.
The meeting was presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Speakers urged countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which grows more than half of the world’s food supply while two-thirds of the regional population remains underfed, to strengthening their farming cooperatives.
The Princess said that feeding the world presented a great challenge on both the demand and supply sides.
Demand for food is rising, while supplies are challenged by climate change. Agricultural cooperatives are a crucial way to increase farm production, she said.
The Princess said in her address that farming cooperatives should be encouraged, as they would help promote integration in production, marketing and finance, which would in turn strengthen farming sector growth. Currently, about 30 per cent of the 300 largest cooperatives in the world are in agriculture, and the number should be promoted continuously, she added.
The theme of this year’s World Food Day, which also marked the 67th anniversary of the FAO, was “Agricultural Cooperatives: key to feeding the world”.
Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director-general of the FAO and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said the role of agricultural cooperatives and farmer organisations had become more important in recent years.
“Rapid expansion of hypermarket and supermarket chains has made small-scale farmers more vulnerable to competition. If they stand alone, each small farmer has fewer opportunities. Standing as a group, they can compete and succeed in a modern and competitive business climate,” he said.
The FAO official said that farmers in a cooperative system would have stronger negotiating power, access to credit facilities and organised marketing, as well as opportunities for skills training to produce quality and safe products to meet market demand.
Hisao Azuma, senior adviser to the Japan Association for International Collaboration on Agriculture and Forestry, said every country should focus its efforts on increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers as a priority, as enhanced productivity would enable each of them to provide enough food for their family and to market the surplus.
Surpluses could coincide with the production of alternative crops with proper marketing and processing facilities, he said.
Moreover, if the government had a policy to provide incentives for enterprises and encourage collaboration among farmers, it would lead to the setting up of more cooperatives, he added.
A message from FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva stated that strong cooperatives and producer organisations were an essential part of enabling a good environment to support farming growth.
He said that every party had the means to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. What is needed is the establishment of an enabling environment that allows small producers to take advantage of available opportunities.
According to an FAO report, the number of people in a state of chronic hunger is recorded at 870 million, which represented 12.5 per cent of the world’s population in 2010-2012, compared with 18.6 per cent in 1990-92.
However, despite this improvement, one in every eight persons still goes hungry.
For Asia and the Pacific, the number of people chronically hungry totalled 563 million in 2010-12, which constitutes 65 per cent of the world’s underfed.